Tuesday, April 7, 2015

When There is No More Room in Hell, The Zombie Fiction Will Walk The Earth

Hey blog readers, it's time for some ZOMBIES.

Do you like zombies? Can't get enough of The Walking Dead? Need more zombies in your life? Well here are some ways to fill your life with the undead until Season 6 starts up in October 2015.

The Black Tide Rising Series, by John Ringo - 5/5 stars

This four-part series was written by John Ringo, who is usually a military science-fiction author. One of those military sci-fi authors whose world-building immerses you so deeply into the world of his novels that you always get pissed off when the series ends because, damnit, you just don't want to stop reading it. This series is the story of the Smith family, a family of doomsday preppers who get themselves out to the Atlantic after a zombie-apocalypse breaks out. After some time at sea, they decide it's time to start saving the world. Between Captain Steve Smith, an Aussie ex-special forces officer, his wife and two daughters, they start saving the world, one boat at a time, then one island at a time, looking for survivors and fighting zombies for supplies. My favorite part of this series, though, is one of Steve's daughters, Faith Marie Smith, aka She-wolf. This 13-year old turns into the world's premier expert on zombie killing, and she is AWESOME. Seriously, Michonne has got nothing on She-wolf. Pick up the first book in this series, Under a Graveyard Sky, and get ready for an awesome, well-written, sometimes funny, always badass zombie adventure.

The Ex-Heroes Series, by Peter Clines - 5/5 stars

Zombie fighting is awesome. You know it, I know it, and Peter Clines, author of Ex-Heroes knows it. But he decided to take zombie fighting, and crank it up to eleven by writing a series of books that has SUPER-HEROES FIGHTING ZOMBIES!!!! Yes, ladies and gentlemans, you read that correctly, but I'll repeat it again because it's that awesome: SUPER-HEROES FIGHTING ZOMBIES!!!! I seriously geek out every time I think about it. An awesome concept does not a great novel make, but Peter Clines delivers with excellent world-building, inredible characters, and a great story in each entry into the series. Some classic zombie tropes and some classic super-hero tropes (especially super-hero show-downs), but they are always applied in original ways, and there are some incredibly creative differences thrown in. Go buy Ex-Heroes and get ready to geek out and have a blast as you experience what one critic called "Marvel's The Avengers meets AMC's The Walking Dead" .

Some notes on the above series: Both of these series have a ton of geeky references, including D&D, The Matrix, Aliens, and many more. Perhaps both authors assume SFF fans will be a majority when it comes to Zombie Apocalypse Survivors? In addition, neither one uses the most annoying Zombie trope ever, (sorry Mr. Kirkman) "Call them anything but Zombies". An interesting thing is that both authors have completely different styles (and different ideologies) but both make their series work incredibly well. I would highly recommend either of these series to anyone who enjoys a good Z-A throwdown.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Typical Shadows

                Awake from another dreamless sleep. Roll out of bed. Get ready for another dreamless day. Brush your teeth and tie your tie, drive through the snow to walk through the taupe-colored door. Pour a cup of coffee, cheap and black and strong. Walk into your box and sit down, watch the typical shadows flutter by as you stare at the screen.

                Stop on the way home, buy a bottle of whiskey. Open your door and pull off your tie. Ignore the urge to throw it into the fireplace and toss in a match. Step on to your porch and pull out your cigarettes. Stare over the railing and into the trees. Watch the smoke curl into the cold, stale air and disappear like the hours behind you.

                Open the bottle and pour a glass. Drink it in one. Wash it down with your last can of Coke. Take another drink. It won’t hurt anything. Have another. Wash them down until the Coke is empty and your head feels light. Now go for a walk.

                Keep walking. The air is cold, but you have a coat and the whiskey keeps you warm. When the cold starts to bite, stop at the coffee shop on the corner. Order it black. Smile at the barista. She smiles back. Sit and drink your coffee and stare at your cell phone. Read some email, catch up on that blog. Now step outside for another cigarette. There are people walking in and out. Go around the side of the building before you light up.

Book Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

Today I get to review one of my favorite books by an author who I only discovered about a year ago, but has quickly become one of my favorites. If you've ever read John Scalzi, you'll know why.

Today's review: REDSHIRTS

Introduction - Fever Dream

This is the first page of a novella I wrote called "Fever Dream"

Amit knew the physics of the place were off, but there was no way they should have survived that crash. The Jeep had rolled three or four times, he wasn’t sure, and now it was sitting on all four wheels. Granted, it was apparently stuck in a big pile of rocks, but it was running, and it shouldn’t be. He wondered if the girls were having better luck. It was starting to get dark, just that twilight time when the sky is a pale purple-blue just after the sun sets, and Jordy hit the overhead light to check out the inside of the car. Amit looked out the window and there was something weird about the landscape. Well, weirder than usual. He couldn’t place it until he switched focus to his own vague, transparent reflection. Or rather, the reflection that should have been his own. He was looking into the reflection and instead of seeing a transparent version of himself returning his gaze with Jordy in the background, there were the girls. A transparent Shay was in the passenger seat and Kelly was further back, behind a spectral steering wheel.

“Damn,” Amit said. He shook his head, trying to clear the fog that had settled over his mind, “something weird is happening again.”

“No shit,” said Jordy, “what gave it away, this mountain that appeared out of nowhere or the road that turned into quicksand fifty yards back?”

“No,” said Amit, “I mean something new. Do you remember when we split up with the girls?”

“Bro, that was like half an hour ago.”

“But do you remember?”

“Sure, we were deciding whether or not to split up,” Jordy’s brow knitted and eyes narrowed, “and we… decided not to…”

“Right,” said Amit, “I think we should get out.”

“You want to go out there?” asked Jordy, incredulous, “We don’t know if those... those big dog things are still out there!”

“They’re wolves.” Said Amit in a flat voice, “Just call them what they are. It doesn’t matter, though,” and he started cranking the manual window.

“Wait!” said Jordy, but Amit was already climbing out the window.

Jordy looked out his own window, and saw the strange red desert that they hadn’t been driving through until a split second before the crash. He sighed and rolled his eyes. This place was getting ridiculous. He turned back toward the passenger seat to shout out to Amit, but instead he saw Shay sitting in the passenger seat, looking a bit excited.

“Whoa,” he said, “when did you get here?”

She looked at him, not his eyes but a spot just a bit below and to the right. She was mouthing something with enthusiasm, and pointing out the window toward Amit, but there was no sound and he couldn’t make out what she was mouthing.

“Just get out of the car!” he heard Amit say through the open window.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Caltech Scientists Develop New Method for Producing Space-Age Material

Here's the story

So some scientists at Caltech have developed  a new method to produce Graphene, which is a space-age material that is orders of magnitude better at conducting than Silicone, and can be produced in the thickness of a single atom. That means that it can carry data and information and information at higher speeds and in higher quantities than anything we can currently produce. Imagine power that can be stored and transferred in quantities like that! Solar panels could be literally 100,000% more efficient than they are now. Hard drives are already ridiculously small, but imagine supercomputers the size of a dime.

Not only that, but if Graphene can be produced cheaply and in enough quantity, it could be used as a building material. It is 200x stronge (by weight) than steel. Carbon-fiber has got nothing on Graphene.

This is the material that sci-fi stories all use as futuristic, almost impossible materials, and it's happening now. To me, that's as cool as it gets.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Merriam-Webster Releases Statement: List of words that don't offend any group is alarmingly short.

In a press conference earlier, officials from Merriam-Webster confirm that after months of looking into the offensiveness of individual words, their researchers threw up their hands, yelled, "Fuck it" and got rid of all adjectives, verbs, and nouns. The only words now that don't offend anyone are gender-neutral pronouns and indefinite articles. When asked to comment, representatives from Oxford Dictionaries said, "Merriam-Webster? They're a bunch of fucktards."

Friday, February 20, 2015

Genius from a Pizza Commercial – OR – Show, Don’t Tell

This post is about some writing advice. It does relate, I promise, just bear with me for a minute.

In the small town of Bloomington in southern Indiana, home of Indiana University, there are a shit-load of pizza places. I haven’t been back to that town in several years, but I can remember several off the top of my head: Pizza Express, Mother Bear’s, Crazy Aver’s, Bistro, Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, Uncle D’s, Buccetto’s, Rocket’s and CafĂ© Pizzeria. I got my degree in Economics there and I actually wrote a paper on the market for pizza in town. Needless to say, there were a lot of commercials on TV for the various pizza places. But I only remember the commercials for two of them: Mother Bear’s and Crazy Aver’s.

I remember the Mother Bear’s commercial because it was ridiculous. It had a grown man with stubble wearing fairy wings, a blonde wig, and a tutu. It was weird, but not terribly effective except for being memorable for its weirdness.

The commercial for Crazy Aver’s, however, was just fucking genius. The commercial was just dead silence with non-moving images of delicious pizza. The reason this is so brilliant was because TV is full of noises. When the TV goes silent, it grabs your attention. If you’re having a conversation, or if you are watching and nodding off, you turn back to look at the TV to make sure it didn't turn off. These commercials always played late at night. In a college town, that usually meant a drunk and/or high audience that was easily distracted.

So you turn to the TV to see why it has suddenly gone silent, and you see a picture of a delicious, melty-cheese, pepperoni covered culinary masterpiece. Your mouth starts watering. Another pizza appears, this one some kind of specialty with meat and vegetables. Another pizza appears, this one with a cold, sweating glass of soda next to it. Then the voice comes on: “Crazy Aver’s Pizza, Order now!” and the phone number appears on the TV.

Fucking. Brilliant.

I have no idea how many pizzas they sold me this way, but everyone I knew said the same thing. That commercial is genius. This doesn't even consider that this was probably the cheapest commercial to make in history.

Anyway, there are two writing-related points to this:

First, with regards to the opening line(s) of a story: You don’t have to make a lot of noise to grab attention. Your story doesn't have to open in the middle of an epic battle. You don’t need to curse like a sailor, or say something poetic, or paint beautiful word-imagery to hook someone. You just have to give them a reason to look. A few examples:

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking 13.” – George Orwell, 1984

“The trick to walking around in someone else’s body is not getting caught.” – Rick Wayne, The MinusFaction

“Marley was dead, to begin with.” – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

“Aliens suck at music.” – Rob Ried, Year Zero

They make you want to know what the fuck is going on, don’t they? I've noticed a lot of sci-fi novels drop you into a battle right at the beginning. Anything by Dan Brown is probably going to open with a grisly murder scene. A lot of classical literature will try to open with a lot of detail of the setting, or what the author wants to be a clever and memorable line, usually one that doesn’t really have a lot to do with the plot (This does not apply to Jane Austen, that woman was a genius). I'm not saying any of these books are bad, but you don't HAVE to start your story that way. The lines above, they hook you without trying to throw a lot of noise at you. They get your eyebrow raised and your eyes locked on the page.

The second bit of wisdom from this commercial is something you’ve heard a thousand times, “Show, don’t tell.” Aver's didn't have to tell me anything about their pizza. They just showed it to me and made my mouth water. This little nugget of wisdom is tough, because we are using words. Using words, by their very nature, is pretty much the definition of “tell”. Confusing? It was to me for a long time, until I figured it out by watching one of the greatest movies of all fucking time, Star Wars. It does a great job of showing a lot of information without having to tell you anything. Let’s novelize that scene:

As the men in faceless white armor examine the bodies of their recent kills, a heavy robotic breathing sounds from the blown-open doorway. Both stormtroopers immediately drop what they are doing and come to rigid attention. A tall figure, dressed all in black, face covered by a black mask, and figure shrouded by a black cape steps onto the ship. He looks down at the corpses littering the hallway. None are who he is looking for. He moves on, followed by his guard.

What did I just show you about Darth Vader? First, he’s important. The troopers came to attention. Second, he’s a cold bastard. He took just long enough to see that his prey wasn’t among the dead. Third, he’s scary looking. I didn't say he was scary looking, but the description, with a few choice adjectives (shrouded, repetition of “black”) pretty much ensures you know he’s scary looking. That paragraph is 82 words, and it advances the story while also conveying what I want you to know about Darth Vader. If I wrote the next few scenes out, you’d know Darth Vader is powerful, evil, and someone you do not fuck with. I wouldn't have to say any of that, because what he does, along with a few short descriptions, will get the point across.

I hope you enjoyed this, now go write something!